The Comedy Book Gift Guide for Every Funny Family Member
Is your holiday shopping list full of hard-to-please family members who also happen to be insane comedy fans? Then rest easy, friends — your yuletide woes are over. 2023 was a banner year for comedy books, memoirs and histories with a funny l’il something to please everyone from your campy cousin to your stand-up-stan stepbrother. Stuff those holiday stockings with our choices for the year’s best comedy books…
For Cousin Ray, the Gen X Malcontent in the Joy Division T-Shirt: ‘We’re Not Worthy’ by Jason Klamm
Mainstream comedy sucks, bro. It’s not like the ‘90s when cable channels were chock-full of alt-comedy sketch shows practically bursting with fruit flavor. We’re Not Worthy celebrates that ‘90s gold, from the programs everyone knows (In Living Color and Mr. Show) to the ones that only the hippest comedy nerds watched (Almost Live!, Bert Fershners and Exit 57). Cousin Ray will revel in the era’s DIY, grunge aesthetic before the corporations co-opted it all and ruined everything.
For Your Sister, Grace, Who Glued a Picture of This Book on Her Vision Board: ‘Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere’ by Maria Bamford
Intimate, wistful, and most of all, funny, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult might be the most useful book about mental health you’ll read this year — or at least, the most relatable one. Bamford knows problems can’t be neatly resolved, either in life or in a book. “I love a massive before and after picture where somebody’s like, ‘Before, I was pathetic and estranged, and now I’m connected and beloved,” she told Cracked earlier this year. “But I feel like that’s a daily process — that’s pre-Nitro Cold Brew/post-Ben & Jerry’s little pint. I can’t even handle a whole pint now — I used to be able to handle a whole pint back in the day. Now I’m taken out by a little pint — you know, one of those tiny ones that you can get from the gas station?”
For Your Brother-in-Law Todd, the Pun Aficionado: ‘Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!’ by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker
Strictly on a jokes-per-minute basis, Airplane! still ranks as one of the funniest movie comedies of all time. Surely, You Can’t Be Serious unspools the unlikely tale of how it came to be, from its street theater origins to casting some of the most deadly serious actors to ever get a laugh. “One of the hard things about doing a film like this is you cast actors in a comedy, but you won’t let them be funny, so they really have to trust,” Jerry Zucker told Cracked. “What we always used to say is, ‘Don’t let on that you’re in a comedy.’”
For Uncle Ron, the Not-So-Secret Misogynist: ‘Not Funny: Essays on Life, Comedy, Culture, Etc.’ by Jena Friedman
We just want to see the look on Uncle Ron’s face when he reads “Brief Interviews with Hilarious Men,” Friedman’s conversations with Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan, Bob Odenkirk, Reggie Watts and Eugene Mirman using only questions that she’s been asked as a female comic: “Do you think men can be sexy and funny?” “Is it harder to date since you started doing stand-up?” “Do you write your own material?” Even Uncle Ron will have to admit Not Funny is pretty freaking hilarious.
For Aunt Colleen Who Continues to Insist ‘The Breakfast Club’ Is the Best Comedy Ever Made: ‘Misfit: Growing Up Awkward in the ‘80s‘ by Gary Gulman
Gulman is a walking time capsule, remembering so many intricate details from his 1980s childhood that Misfit feels like jumping in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and reliving that Day-Glo decade in real time. Everything you love about Gulman — the intimate honesty about mental health struggles, the genuinely hilarious insights and wordplay — make Misfit a Judd Apatow movie just waiting to happen.
For Uncle Pete, the Rob Schneider Fan Convinced You Can’t Joke About Anything Anymore: ‘Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars‘ by Kliph Nesteroff
Think cancel culture is ruining comedy? Nesteroff’s Outrageous suggests you think again with this historical perspective on pop culture’s clashes with its critics throughout history. “I doubt very much that there was ever a celebrity who wasn't subjected to some form of hostility throughout the 20th century,” Nesteroff told me. Even conservative comedy heroes like Bob Hope got the cancel treatment.
If you’re worried about the future of funny free speech, Outrageous will both assuage and fuel your fears.
For Your Sister Eileen, a Regular at Chuckle Shack’s Open Mic Night: ‘Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture — And the Magic That Makes It Work‘ by Jesse David Fox
You don’t actually have to be an aspiring comedian to dig Comedy Book, a shrewd collection of essays that aspire to elevate comedy to an art form. For the most part, Fox succeeds thanks to insights from the famous funny people (Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney, Ali Wong, Kate Berlant and more) whom Fox has interviewed over the past 15 years. If you want to better understand the craft of comedy, Comedy Book will put you on the righteous path.
For Grandma Connie: ‘Still Laughing: A Life in Comedy‘ by George Schlatter
For older comedy fans who long to reminisce about the funny old days, Still Laughing should do the trick. Schlatter’s most famous comic creation is probably Laugh-In and he delivers the goods with behind-the-scenes stories about the silly, psychedelic series. But stick around for more of Schlatter’s vintage comedy tales starring Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Redd Foxx, Martin Short and Chevy Chase.
For Your New Stepdad Who Just Happens to Be Paul F. Tompkins: ‘Comedy Bang! Bang! The Podcast (The Book)’ by Scott Aukerman
The year’s funniest comedy book is Comedy Bang! Bang!, an illustrated volume that can best be described as a comedy sketch show in book form. You don’t need to be a fan of the podcast (or even Bang! Bang! regular Paul F. Tompkins) to get the jokes, but if you have a longstanding relationship with the goofs within, all the better. “The process of making this book is unlike any other book that I think the publisher has ever done. It was very confusing for them. It was semi-confusing for us,” Aukerman told me about approaching the book like casting characters in a sketch show. “I went out to a bunch of people who were involved in the show and said, ‘Write me pieces, as many as you can.’ It was a really weird way to put together a book.”
A really funny way to do it as well.